JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) — Twenty percent of teenagers ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance Mental Illness, one eastern Iowa school district is tackling the issue in a new way.
The Clear Creek Amana School District is taking a unique, proactive approach to combat mental health struggles on campus.
After taking a look at student data, such as truancy numbers, Clear Creek Amana’s Special Services Director, Barb Hunt knew she wanted the district to have more tools for addressing mental health issues. Especially for students who have been identified as at risk of dropping out.
“The mental health world is a very confusing world for families. How do I get a councilor? Who do I even go? What does that look like? How do I pay for that? All of those things are very overwhelming,” said Hunt.
That’s where the district’s new School, Family Liaisons come into play. Last year, there were two on staff. Hunt said they were such a great resource, this year they decided to grow that number to three.
“It’s really hard for students who are feeling certain things but don’t know if that’s normal or different. Then who do I talk to say that I’m having these feeling?” said Hunt.
One of the liaisons is split between the high school and middle school, that are seperated by a parking lot. The other liaisons are covering all of the elementary buildings in the district.
Students get referred to the liaisons by the school councilors after an initial evaluation.
“We’re blessed with great agencies, but they’re booked, they’re full. It also takes time but if we have a situation that needs immediate attention, we have them on staff and readily available,” said High School Principal, Mark Moody.
Moody has spent more than 30 years in education. He says the in-depth, professional guidance has been invaluable, especially for teachers who are new to the profession.
“There’s not a lot of training in depression, anxiety and suicide and all those things that are a reality in education right now. Teaching is the toughest profession bar none and the more education we can give them and professional learning in how to more successfully deal with students the better.”
All three liaisons have flexible contracts so they’re also able to make home visits and work after hours to make things more convenient and comfortable.
The service is free to district families. Moody and Hunt both agree that helps break down barriers for families who may not otherwise afford a therapist or seek this type of help.
The positions are paid for with school tax funds. It’s money set aside for programs targeting students who are at risk of dropping out.
The district did consider applying for grants but wanted to make sure funding continued well into the future.
Hunt says other Iowa districts have reached out to them to learn more about these positions and how they’re utilized.